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Things that Bug Me:
How to Spot an Amateur
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May 2009


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This is a list of silly things that bug me.

If you prefer to do any of these things, don't let me poop in your ice cream, but otherwise, I used to do these things myself until I learned better.

Now that I think I know better, let me share these in the hope that it can help you get a 20-year jump on me.

Anytime I'm at a spot with a lot of amateurs snapping away, I see all too much of this.



Photographers don't carry their gear in backpacks because they can't shoot out of them.

Backpacks are for carrying stuff that you don't need until you reach your campsite, like cooking gear and tent pegs.

Backpacks are not for carrying anything you need as you're walking around, like cameras or lenses.

Bag makers sell a lot of expensive packs to a lot of people new to the hobby. Don't fall into this trap.

I've heard stories of some people who actually walked around events with roller camera bags. The pros at the event were peeing in their pants with laughter!

See Camera Bags for more practical suggestions.


Carrying too much stuff

Pros know exactly what they need and only bring it.

It's OK to buy and own everything ever made, just never try to bring more than a camera and lens or two anyplace at once.

People with less experience, just like inexperienced or infrequent travelers, bring everything out of fear that they "might need it."

"Might" isn't a strong enough need to justify carrying something with you. Carry only what you actually do use.

Never carry more than two or three lenses (preferable bring just one), and never carry any lens with any focal lengths duplicated by any other lens you're carrying.

The biggest sign of an amateur is a guy who rolls up with a Canon 5D Mk II or 1Ds Mk III, and the 14mm L II, 16-35mm f/2.8 L II, 24/1.4L II, 35/1.5 L, 50/1.2 L and etc. This turkey is carrying five lenses where a pro would only bring one, probably the 16-35 L II. The reason it's stupid to carry all this is that any one of these lenses is all you need at one time, not the zoom and the fixed lenses which duplicate function.

In Nikon, the same beginner will trunk a D700, 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm VR, 24 PC-E, 28/1.4, 50/1.4, 85/1.4, 105 VR Micro, 135/2 DC and God knows what else. A pro would have only the 14-24mm (or more likely the 17-35/2.8) and/or the tele, and that's it. If it's dark, he'd have one of a 50/1.4 or a 28/1.4 or a 85/1.4, and that's it.

See Carry Less for more.


Polarizer over UV filter, or polarizer used all the time

Doing either of these is silly.

It's inelegant to put a polarizer over a UV filter. You might get vignetting with a wide lens, and you're inviting extra ghosts and flare from the unneeded UV filter that should have been removed before you placed any other filter over the lens. The UV is just a mechanical prophylactic, it doesn't do anything optically today.

Only use a polarizer if you need it, which is rarely. If you don't need it, it costs you about two stops of light, meaning you'll have to shoot at larger apertures, slower shutter speeds or higher ISOs to get the same result as you would if you took off your polarizer and replaced it with your UV filter.

I'm the laziest guy around, and I only put on a polarizer when I need it, and then it comes right off and I put the UV filter back on.

This is why I'm so adamant about picking your lenses to have the same filter size as each other: you only need to carry one set of filters.


Midrange zoom

I don't know of any fulltime pro who uses, or even owns, a midrange zoom.

Pros use a wide zoom, a tele zoom, and maybe a small, fast fixed-focal-length normal lens for low light.

In the pro's bag, the fixed normal lens, if carried at all, replaces the midrange zoom because it's much faster for low light.

Pros know that you don't need any lenses between where the wide zoom leaves off and the tele zoom picks up, so why carry a big midrange zoom? If you get stuck, pull out your normal, or just take a few steps forward or back.

Newcomers to the hobby freak out, and think they'll die if they don't have every millimeter covered, while guys like me will shoot for weeks on end with just a few fixed lenses of wildly different focal length.

When I shoot in any format, I usually only bring three fixed lenses equivalent to 20mm, 40mm and 85mm.


Camera worn directly over the neck

Carrying too much

Legoland, February 2009.

If you carry a camera like this, you look like a geek, you can't move fast and it hurts your neck. I'll spare you the details.

Sling your camera around your shoulder and neck. Now you can run, and if the camera's not already in your hands, just tuck it down with your elbow if you have to scramble.


Clean gear

Pros use their gear so much that it gets thrashed.

Here's what my friend Karl Grobl's gear looks like. He earns his living with this gear every day, and by now it looks even worse than when he took those photos.

The surest way to spot a hobbyist is that all his gear and tripods look brand new, and they probably are.



Everyone reads the Internet and thinks they need the newest DSLR.

Every amateur buys a brand-new DSLR, and that's fine.

Pros use beat-up old gear, and love to shoot film on their off hours for personal work.

There are plenty of pros earning their livings today with Canon 10Ds and Nikon D70s. A pro is a pro because he's in this to make a profit, not to buy more gear.


Lens caps and cap keepers

Pros work too fast for lens caps.

They use protective filters, and then usually just throw their filtered lenses in their bag.

It takes too long to fiddle with lens caps, which lead to lost photos.

The most foolish thing is cap keepers. This give you all the disadvantages of caps, and also leaves it dangling below your lens to annoy the heck out of you.


Using a tripod in daylight

For photography's first hundred years or so (1850 - 1950), ISO 32 film was a reasonably fast normal film. Color film was slower, usually ISO 10.

Even in broad daylight, you were making long exposures at large apertures.

You needed to use a tripod to allow slower speeds for smaller apertures for depth-of-field, otherwise nothing was in focus.

A typical color exposure in broad daylight was f/4 at 1/125. If you wanted more depth-of-field, wanted to use a telephoto lens or if it got cloudy, you needed a tripod.

When decent film reached ISO 100, which was a speed almost unheard of up through the 1950s, the tripod went away for daylight use, and with digital, they aren't needed, even at night.

See Digital Killed My Tripod.

Someone shooting with a DSLR on a tripod in daylight probably has a few screws loose. VR further eliminates the need for tripods. If I shoot a 15-pound 400mm lens, I use a monopod; not to steady it, but just to hold the weight.


LCD magnifier

Digital cameras don't have LCDs with enough resolution to justify magnifying them. There's nothing more to see when magnified.



Only a buffoon leaves the AF confirmation beeper ON.

Who wants to annoy everyone?

This is OK if you're hard-of-seeing, but not otherwise.


Camera brand strap showing logo

Who wants to advertise for no pay?

Worse, you're inviting criminals to come give you a hard time.

See Camera Straps for more.


Hood on backwards

If you use a hood, leave it on the lens in the shooting position.

If you can't carry it (or leave it in your bag) that way, leave it home.

Do not store the hood in the reversed position. It takes too long to right it when you need to shoot.

I don't know how many times I see people out shooting with hoods attached in reverse! All this does is get in the way of you controlling the lens, and does nothing to reduce flare.

If you can't store the lens with the hood in the shooting position, ditch the hood.

I use caps that fit over the front of any hoods that I use. No one promotes this, but often a larger cap size will fit in the front of a hood. This is a lot better than having to unscrew a hood each time, and the round cap inside the front of the hood helps keep the hood from getting bangs in a bag.


Tripods, fast lenses and high ISOs

If you have a tripod, you don't need fast lenses and you don't want high ISOs.

If you have a fast lens, you don't need a tripod and you don't need high ISOs.

If you have high ISO, you don't need a tripod and you don't need fast lenses.

So why is it that the same corn-dogs who worry themselves sick obsessing over invisible high-ISO differences between similar cameras are the same guys who put that same carefully selected high-ISO camera on a tripod, and then are the same guys who go and buy f/2.8 zooms and f/1.4 fixed lenses?

Any one of these three things is enough for dim-light shooting. Any one or two of them are enough for shooting under moonlight.

La Jolla Moonlight

La Jolla under moonlight, hand-held. bigger.

Nikon D3 at ISO 6,400 and 1/4 second hand-held, 28mm f/1.4 at f/1.4.

Any camera with a fast lens works in dim light.

Any camera on a tripod works under starlight, and works even better with slow ISOs and slow lenses if you have the time to wait for the long exposure.


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